I've ended up doing the traverse of Dowbergill Passage many times this past year, most of these trips have been for sport, to keep fit and maintain an edge and usually be done at a very quick pace. Today's trip was a pleasant change from the norm and was used to tie up some loose ends and attempt some photography.
This trip could possibly have been my 40th traverse of the passage.
It's conventional usually to do the trip in a downstream direction, starting at Providence Pot and ending at Dow Cave (downhill all the way), but because of the predicted length of the trip and the possibility of the weather breaking early I opted for the upstream version (in reverse) beginning instead at Dow Cave. It's a lot more difficult this way round, you're against the flow of water and gravity.
My sole reason for this decision and the only benefit being I would be clear of the more flood prone sections early on. Today was the last good day before the weather broke again.
The Northern Counties of England have been subjected to a series of freak storms this past month, the worst coming over the Christmas period. Unreal scenes of flooding became commonplace especially after a month of record breaking rainfall. The Caves and Potholes of the Dales will have received a severe hammering. Who knows what influence the floods will have had on them - e.g Loose Rock, sediment deposition, hydrology etc... We will no doubt find out in due course but not always put the two together.
The passages of Dow Cave - Dowbergill Passage - Providence Pot are home to many objective dangers, loose rock being by far the greatest of threats - flooding of such a magnitude will not only affect areas that would usually be out of reach but threaten the stability of the innumerable loose and jammed boulders that are unavoidable at times when passing.
It was early afternoon when I entered Dow Cave, the next installment of severe weather was not due till the evening, but from the look of the sky and the ambient foreboding I felt it could have come at any minute.
From the beginning there was a certain anticipation in the air, the Cave Gods were holding their breath, fully aware the deluge was not yet over. I think I felt the same and wasn't quite sure myself how things were going to go. I don't think I've ever felt as unwelcome in that Cave as I did today.
The lower streamway was all still passable but that didn't stop me having a few moments, momentarily stuck against the still ferocious and quickly building current. The first half of that trip against the flow of water, with the constant reminder of recent flood related devastation (froth) made this a solo trip not for the faint hearted.
With the land been as saturated as it was I can imagine the usual delay in rain water collecting and then acting upon the cave would be far shorter than usual.
I spent nearly two hours in the more flood prone sections between Dow Cave and 800 yards Chamber, taking photos and tending to other business, but always ready to react to a sudden rise in water levels. There are many places where you can escape upwards but I wouldn't know what awaits in many places because I've never had to venture up some of it. I'd brought with me an old harness and a short length of rope just in case I had to play Batman above the rising waters. I haven't carried such equipment in here for years but in the event things did go tits up I would rather have it than not at all. The higher levels of Dowbergill Passage can be very confusing, desperate and slippy and reversing stuff is not always safe or feasible. Plus navigationally the higher levels are a complete contrast to the easily traceable lower levels.
I heard distant rockfall while quietly taking photos at one point early in the trip, but quiet for the most part was short lived. The usual whispers and chatter of imagined souls were replaced with Screaming Hordes and Boeing Jumbo Jets. Even the usually quiet galleries between Bridge Cavern and Skittle Chamber were rarely silent. I would usually have a soundtrack playing in my head or be deep in thought, I can not remember either of them being the case, the added noise may have wiped it all out or maybe my mind was more on the job in hand than usual.
I did consider going up-and-over at the Brew Chamber sector, especially on seeing the force of the water in the narrows low down. But after a moments deliberation I decided I really couldn't be arsed with going all the way up there and took my chances with the Rapid Watery squalor.
The passing of 800 Yards Chamber signalled the end of the fight and easier going. The first half had been a nerve racking joy and I was secretly hoping a Tidal Pulse would come and offer me a new front to beat myself against. I would partake in these riskier type ventures(gambling with the weather) far more than I do if it wasn't for the thought of having to answer to far less able cavers than myself for my actions, or the Law or the Bar Stools telling me 'I told you so'.
The going from 800 Yards Chamber to Stalagmite Corner is no less a joy than the rest, the Sculpted and Scalloped Rock here please my eyes far more than any Calcite Formation.
The Boulder Choke/Climb at the upstream end of Bridge Chamber appears to have moved again and quite recently.. Beware!
My Fenix Primary Light had all but died by the time I reached Stalagmite Corner, the single battery doesn't last long when using the blast mode with frequency.
With Providence Pot came the last time I would be getting wet but the first time I would be getting muddy in the Blasted Crawl.
The idea of surfacing after prolonged periods alone underground does not always offer the warmth it would have done before the trip began. It did occur earlier that the entrance to Providence Pot may have washed away or collapsed during those mighty floods. The thought of having to return to Dow should my exit be blocked offered me something to consider, I would have returned without a moments notice had that been the case - I certainly would've have sat and waited for help believe me, even though it would have been a risky move with the severe weather coming. But on arrival at that familiar shaft, my usual farewell to the world, I glimpsed a porthole of twilight and knew that would not be the case.
The night air above was gripping and I cooled very quickly. I'd been underground ten minutes short of four hours, definitely the longest Dowbergill traverse trip I can remember having for many years. The walk back to Park Rash offered no comfort and a little hardship with the aid of a stiff breeze and a poorly knee. No more complaints about been topside were heard once the interior of my car was toasty and I was driving home.
Unlike many of my prior trips here where the end comes far too quick and easy, today's trip felt like a truly classic and grueling outing.
© Simon Beck, 2016. The copyright for this article and photographs remains with the author. It should not be reproduced without permission.